Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bangkok Love Story (Pheuan... Guu Rak Meung Waa)

You know something's wrong when this gay couple start to get frisky, and everyone in the audience is laughing at their locking of lips. The entire movie is so contrived and story feeling so forced, they become unintentional comedy. Everything's pretty weak about the movie, save for the gorgeous cinematography, and I'd bet even the gays will steer clear of this dismal effort. A laughing stock, not an edgy, romantic drama exploring forbidden love.

To read my review of Bangkok Love Story at, click on the logo below:


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles

Super Summarized

I guess movies based on children's fantasy books are money spinners that are just too hard to be passed up. But for each Harry Potter and Bridge to Terabithia, there's Eragon and The Golden Compass. The latter two have ready literary installments, but their dismal box office result means they are unlikely to be made anytime soon. Which is probably why The Spiderwick Chronicles decided to combine multiple books into a palatable 100 minute movie that just gets to the point without unnecessary meandering.

Based on the books by Holly Black and Tony Diterlizzi, the story centers on three children, twins Jared and Simon Grace (a double dose of Freddie Highmore), and older sister Mallory Grace (Sarah Bolger), who chance upon a whole new world as introduced in a secret book written by Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathaim), albeit with a warning not to read it, lest they attract the attention of an evil ogre and its minions. Of course, being children, and the rebel amongst them - Jared, learns all that he can about the world of faeries and various miscellaneous thingamajigs that we don't get introduced to much at all. So it's a battle between the good children and the evil monsters as the latter try their best to steal Arthur's field guide, in order for world domination (as always)!

On the whole, as a children's movie, it works to entertain the kids. There were rounds of applause each time the children go one up against the enemies, who aren't really that bright and are easily defeated by tomato sauce (yup, it's a children's movie alright). Some scenes reminded me of Home Alone though, where normal household items become weapon of choice against the enemies. There are the usual pathos built in with the usual parental-children break down in relationships, such as that between Jared and mom Helen (Mary-Louise Parker), and the waiting for promises fulfilled between Lucinda (Joan Plowright) and dad Arthur Spiderwick. I'd bet if the filmmakers can insert reminders to listen to your parents, they would.

The special effects don't really set to wow, and the creature designs also don't set out to astonish. They come across as fairly routine effort in crafting realism, but somehow lacked a distinct soul. Perhaps it's the lack of focus given to individual creatures that they don't come across as unique, or very lazily and hastily slapped together since they're usually moved around in groups. Action set pieces are somewhat below par, and involves lots of running, little physical contact between combatants, and not much tension building where you would root for or cheer for the heroes. Then again, this is an adult watching the movie, not a child, who would have a different opinion.

Fans of Freddie Highmore would be delighted that he does get to stretch his acting chops a bit, although it's just acting through 2 characters on different ends of the spectrum. Filled with various supporting voices like Martin Short as Thimbletack the brownie, Seth Rogen as Hogsqueal hobgoblin and Nick Nolte as evil shape-shifting ogre Mulgarath, it's pretty much a standard action adventure suitable for the entire family with little violence and no gore, though to adults, it might be a little bore.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

21st Singapore International Film Festival

Hello friends, it's almost that time of the year again that we get all excited over the lineup of the films screening at the SIFF. Into it's 21st edition, my interest will still be the screenings of locally made films, and this year seems to have a bumper crop, with no less than 14 features and documentaries slated for screening under a new section called Singapore Panorama.

The festival trailer above is made by director Victric Thng, created specially for this year's event. Royston Tan also directed a tribute to local filmmakers, and that can be seen in the video below. If you're not sure who most of them are, perhaps it is time to get acquainted with them during the festival!

For those on Facebook, you can join the SIFF Group for more updates, or tune in to this blog of course.

I've got a list of Singaporean movies for the festival listed here (under SIFF), and over the next few weeks leading to the Festival, I will be posting up some details on them, so keep your eyes peeled!

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Leap Years

It's OK!

The Leap Years, aka Leap of Love, was a long process in the making. Having tracked this movie for a number of years now, it is going to make its debut this year premiering exactly on Feb 29 no less. While there were the usual production woes, I thought that this was one of those projects that remain in development hell, and given the overlong trailers being played in the cinemas - I didn't time it, but it was more than 3 minutes long - I thought it would be one of those that would sink immediately upon release, despite having international flavour with the casting of Joan Chen and Ananda Everingham. Well, the good news is the Singapore's first English language romance movie passes the litmus test.

Based on the novella by Catherine Lim, The Leap Years tells 2 stories in parallel, but both centered on Li-Ann and her friends through a period of 16 years (4 leap years in total), consisting almost every boy-finds-girl-loves-loses-etc plot point you can think of. And for the most parts, it was almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy of a fortune teller's advice to Li-Ann on her love being one like the wind, which delivered yet another set of cliches like Windows Cafe, mini toy windmills, and moments where long hair gets swept away like Bollywood movies.

Li-Ann actually had three actresses portraying her. The first is Beatrice Chia, who only provides the narration. The second, Wong Li-lin as Li-Ann in her 20s-30s, and Joan Chen playing the same character, now much older. Chen had only a bit role though, which probably didn't challenge her in the acting department, and the short story is about her trying to find some reconciliatory factors with her teenage daughter, and you realize that she probably missed the kind of close-knit mother-daughter relationship that she had when younger, and trying very hard to replicate.

Wong Li-lin anchors the entire movie with her heartfelt portrayal of Li-Ann. Forget about her dismal big screen debut in the horrid German movie Love Under the Sign of the Dragon, which had her almost sleepwalking through it like a zombie, and having her voice unceremoniously dubbed in German. This one showed what she can do, without succumbing to acting cute unnecessarily. Her Li-Ann has never dated and has been holding out for someone special, and chances upon Ananda's Jeremy at an al fresco cafe one day. So the usual games people play begins, with her putting some Irish 29th Feb tradition to the test, and he plays along, towards the goal of setting up a blind date.

Naturally not everything is as rosy as it seems, since the games ended after a magical outing together, with their pledge of meeting at the same place at the same time, every leap year on her birthday. Cliche lines get thrown about, like the frequently used one about better to have loved and lost than to never had loved at all, but the key theme here is about patience. If you deem him or her special, it's well worth the wait, isn't it? Only fools rush in, as they say. So do expect lines being spouted explicitly which might make you cringe a little, or implicitly suggests something that you'd probably already know of, from the wise old sayings of those who have been there and done that.

It's almost like a typical romantic chick flick with the whispers of sweet nothings, promises made, and the quintessential scenes of shopping and lots of clothes. The soundtrack is chock full of lovely ballads by Corrine May, and you'd probably would be enthralled by how familiar locations become quite the romantic backdrops in the movie. Familiar also applies to the supporting cast, with the likes of Nadya Hutagalong and Vernetta Lopez playing good friends, as does Qi Yu Wu as KS (Kiasi? Kiasu? Kana Sai? Anything but actually).

I thought KS was a source of inspiration for those out there still carrying torches for others. It was an easy anchor point for me to dive right into the movie, with the classical example of loving someone who obviously doesn't love you back, and there comes a point in time where you have to wake up and realize your futile efforts. The reality of it is harsh and cruel at that point in time, but to be able to find strength and pick yourself up, that's quite an achievement in itself.

The Leap Years borrows its strength from Catherine Lim's story, and goes to show that no doubt the cliches are abound, this is something of a Singapore movie to be proud of - with a mix of homegrown and international talent, and a story that's purely on love and romance, and not hybrids like romantic-comedies or romantic-tragedies. Love is in the air, and for gimmick's sake, I would recommend this to be watched on the 29th of Feb, and see if you buy into that Irish folklore. I would play along though... but now to have someone make that proposal.. ha!


Left: Qi Yu Wu, Center: Jean Yeo

Director Jean Yeo and actor Qii Yu Wu were present for a post-screening discussion, and here's an excerpt:

Q: What were the challenges faced when adapting the novella for the film?
Jean: I've read the story a few times. The novella is a different medium, and what we got was the essence of the story, which had to be treated as a different entity. The format of the novella was quite different too, in that it can touch on the various nuances in relationships, but for the film, it was set in 4 days over a period of 16 years.

Q: How did you all come up with the February 29th folklore?
Jean: Credit goes to Catherine Lim of course for her research on the topic and the date.

Q: Is speaking English a challenge for you?
Yu Wu: I speak good English [to laughter] and it was very challenging for me to speak not-so-good English in the movie [to more laughter].

Q: What are the other projects you're currently working on?
Yu Wu: I've just finished Painted Skin with Donnie Yen and Zhou Xun. It should be released in October, and has a lot of fighting and visual effects, quite unlike The Leap Years.
Jean: I have two movies in the offing, one of which is a small movie to tap the children / family market, tentatively set in Pulau Ubin, and the other is a movie about the friendship of 4 girls over different eras.

Q: How did you choose the cast?
Jean: I started with the television series Growing Up and Triple 9, so Li-Lin and I go back a long way. I thought her acting in the series were not pushed to the limit, and there's a vulnerable side of her that I want to show. I've also collaborated with Vernetta in television. Yu Wu came recommended through Chinese dramas, and Ananda was through an audition, who mesmerized with his soulful eyes. The others were based on auditions.

Q: Was the flashback sequence part of the novella?
Jean: It wasn't in the novella, and it was added as a marketing decision to get Joan Chen involved, as her presence could help with the distribution of the film. It was shot separately, and the 9 minutes of Joan Chen's part was shot by the second unit director.

Q: How faithful is it to the novella, and what was left out / included?
Jean: It is faithful in essence. The character KS is very different in the novella, where he's a literature major who speaks English fluently! If we filmed it like it's presented in the book, you'll probably be bored to tears!

Q: How does it feel playing a character spanning a long period of time?
Yu Wu: I felt the earlier years the character should have more weight, and hence I put some weight on, which in the later part I managed to slim back down. I liked the role, as it shows the positive side or being rejected, and moving on. I like the role very much and it's inspired me actually.

Q: Do you feel movies like this would help the local film industry?
Yu Wu: When we watch a romance movie, there's somehow something missing. This Singapore one would probably find audiences feeling closer to t, as here are lots of familiar locations.
Jean: We need all kinds of films, as they all represent different slices of life here. This is something more urban versus the heartlander type. We need a lot of different voices in films to evolve, and I would encourage anyone out there to do different kinds of films.
Yu Wu: This one also feels real because there are those who speak good English, and those who speak bad English like me. There's also a lot of dialect in the movie, which makes it seem real too.


Sinema.SG speaks with director Jean Yeo, which you can check out by clicking on this link!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Nutshell Prediction: 80th Annual Academy Awards

So it's probably a good thing that the writers guild strike is over so that I can partake in the annual pot of gold prediction of the winners... to make it easier on myself (still recovering from the after-effects of late nights... getting old, getting old), here are my choices:

Best Motion Picture of the Year - No Country for Old Men
Heart says Juno though

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role - Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role - Julie Christie for Away from Her
Heart says Ellen Page for Juno, though Marion Cotillard may just steal it from everyone.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role - Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role - Rube Dee for American Gangster
Heart suggests Cate Blanchett, but I've not seen I'm Not There, yet (opening film for this year's SIFF). Moreover, hasn't she won enough recently too, and a Supporting Role one for The Aviator.

Best Achievement in Directing - Ethan Coen, Joel Coen for No Country for Old Men

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen - Juno; Diablo Cody
The rest of the nominees though, are just as worthy.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published - Atonement, Christopher Hampton
Heart says Away from Her

Best Achievement in Cinematography - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; Roger Deakins
Roger has 2 shots at this though, the other being for No Country for Old Men

Best Achievement in Editing - Scaphandre et le papillon, Le; Juliette Welfling
Heart says The Bourne Ultimatum has an outside chance

Best Achievement in Art Direction - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; Dante Ferretti, Franscessa Lo Schiavo

Best Achievement in Costume Design - Elizabeth: The Golden Age; Alexandra Byrne

Best Achievement in Makeup - Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End; Ve Neill, Martin Samiel

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score - Atonement; Dario Marianelli

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song - Enchanted; Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz "That's How You Know"

Best Achievement in Sound - Transformers; Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell, Peter J, Devlin

Best Achievement in Sound Editing - Transformers; Mike Hopkins, Ethan Van der Ryn

Best Achievement in Visual Effects - Transformers; Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Russell Earl, John Frazier

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year - Ratatouille; Brad Bird
Heart says Persepolis.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year - Falscher, Die (Austria)

Best Documentary, Features - No End in Sight; Charles Ferguson, Audrey Marrs

Best Documentary, Short Subjects - Freeheld; Cynthia Wade, Vanessa Roth

Best Short Film, Animated - Peter & The Wolf; Suzie Templeton, Hugh Welchman

Best Short Film, Live Action - Mozart des picpockets, Le; Philippe Pollet-Villard

Fool's Gold

We Got Abs

Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson paired up in a chick flick some 5 years back in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, with the latter making the former fall in love with her, and then having to shrug him off as part of a social experiment, only to find herself really loving him instead. In Fool's Gold, our couple reunites, with Kate Hudson's Tess going down deja-vu avenue in wanting to divorce husband Finn, played by McConaughey because she just had enough of his lack of keeping to promises, which even a fantastic sex life couldn't help.

It's no surprise that movies such as Fool's Gold continue to be made, and the formula is pretty no brainer as well. Put in some tempting opportunity for prospecting sunken treasure in the depths of the seas from some aged old ship, smack together good looking leads (so that they can get away with everything, including a bad story) who don't mind bearing their bodies in trunks of bikinis for the most parts of the movie, and pour in plenty of water, jokes, and goon type characters as baddies.

Finn, as a hero, is almost always bumming through life, and making the wrong deals with the wrong kinds of persons. His latest expedition, while managing to gain small results, offends his financier Bigg Bunny (Kevin Hart), who's after his hide for making him lose money. His soon to be ex-wife works as a stewart onboard the luxury yacht of multi-millionaire Nigel Honeycutt (Donald Sutherland), who soon finds himself charmed by the couple's enthusiasm and passion for treasure hunting, and backs them in their latest quest to locate the lost treasure known as the Queen's Dowry, where 40 chests of jewellery with emeralds and rubies the size of a human fists. And the quest is not made easy when there's competition in the form of Moe Fitch (Ray Winstone without CGI to buff him up to Beowulf proportions), and Big Bunny's goons with an injection of foreign talent.

For some parts, this looked like National Treasure without the location jet-setting and the cryptic clues. There's a hidden treasure somewhere that our heroes have to dig deep from clues provided from the past, in knowing characters, their histories and motivations, and of course with goons constantly hot on their heels doing things the easier way without working the brains. However, Fool's Gold had loaded itself with too many characters in its ensemble, and as it expectedly turns out, everyone else besides Hudson and McConaughey are in supporting, one dimensional caricatures.

You have a rapper and his posse, a pair of gay chefs, rival treasure plunders with history going way back, and a tycoon and his daughter whom he's trying to connect with. If I should choose my favourite character amongst all of them, it's gotta be that bimbotic heiress (Alexis Dziena from Broken Flowers) probably cloned from Paris Hilton's genes. In fact, some of her lines are so genuinely stupid, that they somehow turn out really hilarious, and the delivery by that wide-eyed ingenue, clueless face, gave those lame jokes an added boost.

Standard action adventure fare with predictable outcome. Don't go into this movie expecting anything more, or you'll be making a foolish choice.

The Eye

So Cool

So I haven't watched the original Eye movie by the Pang Brothers, but I guess with remakes these days, it doesn't really matter, since most of the time, the Hollywood remade version pales in comparison with the original, despite having a bigger budget, bigger stars and of course, better visual effects. And what almost always seem woeful, is the attempt to try and recreate the atmospherics for a spook fest that Asian horror had perfected, and I'm inclined to suggest that they should adapt the storyline (since there's a creative dearth of ideas), but leave the mimicking of mood at the door.

This is probably the first movie that Jessica Alba marquees, and comparisons would be abound for those who've watched the original to compare her to Angelica Lee's performance. But really, I don't think it matters, since all you need to do is to look pissed scared. As blind violinist Sydney, Alba escapes the need to act blind given the cop out of using shades, coupled with the fact that her transplanted eyes allow for the camera to be out of focus for the most parts.

Things start to get interesting when she begins to see shadowy figures borrowed straight out of Pulse (yet another Asian horror remake), and these all get conveniently debunked by her doctor Paul (Alessandro Nivola who stars as the hopeless, formless Gavin Harris in the Goal movies), because if you're blind for so many years, your brain needs some major time out to absorb all the new sights you're constantly bombarded with. So goes as with standard horror fare, that those who can see spirits when others can't, are classified as nutcases. Alba's no scream queen as the proceedings don't allow her to exercise her lungs, and I swear there are just too many of those waking up from nightmare moments, and the clock ticking around 1:05am.

But credit is due though to the scenes which aim to frighten, and some did hit the mark even though they're the usual tools to surprise from the bag of Boo tricks. There are, to me, a major unexpected moment which I had to nod in acknowledgement of not seeing it coming (I had thought otherwise), but unfortunately, that was it. The latter half of the journey became a road trip movie which sought answers, coupled with Hollywood's preoccupation of having to explain and show everything, leaving little to your imagination since everything was spelt out. While the story's not at fault, the way it's presented made this look like a standard mystery thriller, without the mystery, and without the thrills.

And the finale was a little lacklustre as it seemed to be styled in Final Destination fashion, making it look like it had no more rabbits to pull out of the hat. The Eye had plenty of neat visual effects, and although there are some beautiful stunts involving glass shards and the walking through of objects, special effects alone do not make a horror movie spine-chilling. Looks like there's some major sty in this eye.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Screen Shots at ACM Part 3 - Gubra / Dialogue With Yasmin

Here're some of the excerpts from the Q&A after the screening of Gubra, with some questions about Sepet and Mukhsin as well. As always, they're filled with spoilers, so watch the movies if you haven't, then come back here.

Q: Why did you put that scene where Orked got Arif to tell Latifah that she's a piece of meat, when Orked clearly disagrees with Arif's opinions on women being as such?
A: Because that's what happened in my life, where I got my ex-husband to do that in front of me. I know it's not a nice thing to do. It's also to show that Orked's not all good, and also can be a horrible person.

Q: What is Kiah saving up for?
A: I know of prostitutes who have their various reasons, whatever they are, to go into the profession, and usually it's to support their illegitimate children.

Q: I like the transitional scenes in the film. What was your inspiration?
A: I wrote the script between 5 to 7 days, and I usually don't think much about it when I write the script.

Q: I'm drawn to the character of the religious leader. How did you create the character as he doesn't fall into the Orked storyline?
A: He's based on a real Uztaz in Indonesia, where he and his family deliberately moved to the red light district, and offered to take care of the prostitutes children, and if they allow and are keen to learn, He would teach them the Koran. Initially of course the prostitutes are suspicious of his motives, but they realized later that his motives were genuine.

Q: Will you be doing stories on other races other than Malay-Chinese?
A: Yes, Talentime will be a story between a Malay girl and an Indian boy.

Yasmin on Rehearsals

Q: Why did you do that last scene in Gubra? (referring to the scene after the credits)
A: I don't know, I just wanted to put them in bed together. There were two versions of it, one with Alan in bed with Sharifah Amani, but somehow his stroking of her hair seemed too sensual and passed off as a cheekopek (lecherous old man!). So I spoke with my cinematographer and we shared the same sentiments, and we decided to try it with Choo Seong/Jason, and it came across as very loving!

Q: What's with the wedding ring then?
A: I want them to be married! In Mukhsin they had a child too. It might be seen as wishful thinking.

Q: Is this wishful thinking coming from personal life too?
A: In my movies, I'm conscious about putting in possibilities.

Q: Could you share with us a teaser for Muallaf, if it's a continuation of the Orked trilogy?
Q: No it's not.

Q: What's your preoccupation with one-word titles?
A: I'm too lazy to think of long titles!

Q: Why do you say that Mukhsin was the darkest film?
A: Many have mentioned that Gubra is my darkest film, but the characters actually had a hand in their own situation and outcome. With Mukhsin, he's just a little boy, who's poor, who has to tumpang other people's house, is bullied by his brother, and likes a girl for the first time, but who didn't like him back. None of the things that happen to him, was his own doing.

Yasmin on Sensationalism

Q: Will you go for more taboo topics like homosexuality and even incest?
A: If the ideas so come. I would like to film in Singapore, and I have a story called Monte Carlo which I really want to make here.

Q: Why have a character like Alan in Gubra, where he obviously adores Orked, but in the end, nothing happens?
A: Yeah, there was a red herring in him leading her to the bedroom holding her hand, but you knew what it turned out to be. For him, she's a link to his dead brother, and to her, he's the link to her ex-boyfriend. In the end I just have them become good friends.

Q: Why have a character like the son of the neighbour's gardener?
A: He's my driver actually! In Muar, sometimes you have people who latch themselves onto other families because their own have passed away. And my mom is like a collector of "stray humans", and they soon become like family.

Yasmin also shared that changes to the story do happen during rehearsals, where she would chuck out scenes and put new ones. The scene in Sepet where the family sat on the staircase combing one another's hair was not originally scripted, and the ending for Mukhsin had Orked on top of the tree and looking at Mukhsin in a cab going away, which then cut directly to the end credits.


It was almost 7pm when the proceedings for the day ended, and I'm definitely sure she has gained plenty of new found fans of her movies, and of the director herself.

If you haven't yet seen any of her movies, they are still available on DVD / VCD in Malaysia, though I can't vouch if they're uncut. The local DVD version of Sepet is out of print, and Gubra is fast selling out it seems. Mukhsin can still be found at Mustafa (the Malaysian print, no local print for this one), and the Rabun VCD is a rare find here, so you might want to try to find it in Malaysian shops.

Screen Shots at ACM Part 2 - Sepet

Here's Madam Director saying a few words to introduce Sepet, still rated as one of my favourite amongst her movies (i.e. got that special place in my heart you know?) and I guess I will try not to miss an opportunity each time it is shown on the big screen. Sepet was screened right after the continuation of Mukhsin from last night where only half the movie could be shown before technicalities came to damper the event.

Watching it in chronological order, and especially right after Mukhsin, the dialogue and words uttered by Jason about him meeting Orked probably from another life, telling her that he has many things to ask her and to tell her, brings a whole new dimension to enjoying Sepet altogether.

There was time for a short Q&A, and the number one question (and according to Yasmin, in almost every festival / Q&A session), will be who picked up the phone? Of course there are many different theories and Yasmin put it quite rightly that the theory that you want to believe in, kinda reflects what kind of person you are - the realist, or the hopeless romantic.

The other question asked was why make a love story of people from different races. Yasmin shared her background, where she was once engaged to an Englishman who died. She was writing from experience, and explained that one should write about things one's familiar with, otherwise it will most often come across as fake.

Click here to read my review of Sepet.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Screen Shots at ACM Part 1 - Mukhsin

The Asian Civilisations Museum played host to the retrospective screening of Yasmin Ahmad's movies - Mukhsin, Sepet and Gubra in that order, with the director in attendance to introduce the films, as well as to conduct a short Q&A after each screening.

When the movie rolled (off a DVD, initially I had thought it was 35mm), having seen Mukhsin in Hong Kong during last year's HKIFF, and in Singapore during its limited theatrical run at GV Vivocity's Cinema Europa, I felt that the vibes from the audience this evening was probably the best of the lot... but alas Mr Murphy decided to pop by and we're soon faced with jerky motions that slowly became unbearable, and the screening had to pause halfway to allow for the technical faults to be fixed.

However, things looked pretty grim as the minutes went ticking by, and the chances of continuing the evening with Mukhsin looked unlikely. ACM then decided to compensate the audience with a complimentary pass to its "On the Nalanda Trail" exhibition, and it didn't stop short after that with offers for a full refund. Initially it had wanted to propose if Sepet and Gubra can be screened instead, but the audience wanted nothing other than Mukhsin!

Trust our Madam Director in holding court with her conducting of the Q&A session, and going from the number of foreigners in the audience, they were intrigued by the scenes that had gone by, and some of the questions/answers I will try to reproduce here.

Q: How did you find the actor for Mukhsin?
A: It was not through an audition. Mohd Syafie Naswip was actually accompanying his cousin and I noticed him. I asked him to pick a girl from amongst a group of girls, and it's luck that he picked Sharifah Aryana.
(During the dialogue session after Gubra, Yasmin shared that she hired Mohd Syafie on the spot when he took off his shirt to scale a smooth metal lamppost when she challenged him to, and he did so in about 5 secs flat).

Q: What are the inspiration for your stories?
A: Orked is based on mine, my sister's and my mom's childhood. Orked's parents are based on my own parents.

Meanwhile, here's a video clip of Yasmin's introduction of Mukhsin this evening for the start of the retrospective, and keep your ears peeled when she surprises everyone with a pleasant announcement!

Mukhsin will continue to be screened though from where we left off, so those who have left, do come back tomorrow at 1pm to complete the journey!

SCREEN SHOTS presents...
It Must Be Love: Stories from Yasmin, the Storyteller
22 Feb 2008 - 23 Feb 2008
Friday & Saturday | @ Asian Civilisations Museum, 1 Empress Place, Singapore
Registration and Ticketing Details here:

Click here for my review of Mukhsin and the review of the DVD.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Deaths of Ian Stone

Thought I Died and Gone to Heaven

The premise made this look like a distant cousin of movies like Groundhog Day, only that it's more bizarre, and containing an element of gore. Imagine if you wake up but find yourself living a different life from before you slept, not just repeating the last 24 hours. And each iteration actually ends in death, where you feel pain, and knowingly being hunted down. Then you rinse and repeat, with little recollection and little opportunity to figure things out before you get hit again.

Sounds interesting, right? But The Deaths of Ian Stone wasted the premise, and became a very boring movie despite the tense build up. It kept you guessing, until slowly you realize a whole host of cliches start to creep in, especially those pertaining to speeding up the narrative and to provide wholesale, verbatim explanation on things to come. Showing you is not enough, the characters have to blabber repeatedly, and you start to roll your eyes when they beat around the bush for no good reason.

Ian Stone, the titular character, is played by Mike Vogel. A teenage ice hockey jock, things start to go bump for him when he realizes that time will start to freeze, and he finds himself getting thrust forward in time, but not before suffering immense pain from creative death. The only constant that keeps him sane, is the presence of girlfriend Jenny (Christina Cole), who seem to not recognize him in his moment of awareness, as he tries hard to figure out the whos and the whys.

The posters plastered suggest creatures spawned from the imagination of Stan Winston Studio, but to give credit to the plot, it contains something a little more. While you can find little fault with the special effects and Harvester creature design, you will probably laugh at the laziness in costuming, where total rip offs from the Matrix Trilogy were adapted from, with the tight Trinity styled lycra spandex coming on screen, with the characters' hair slicked back and shades to boot as well.

Of course the theme of love is central to the story (i.e. if you have no theme, you can always fall back on love), as an emotion so powerful it can move mountains and oceans, and with new love come jealousy and envy from those around you, especially from the ones who hold the candle. As mentioned, the movie had promise and an explanation for the strange, but the delivery is suspect, and unfortunately, quite boring. After the first few iterations, you know the idea well has run dry with generic killings, and a whole amalgamation of tools being used concurrently just to inflict pain, but done off-screen. The fight sequences too are terribly bad, with lacklustre punches being thrown around, while brandishing those nicely shaped bladed hands.

The Deaths of Ian Stone is nice to look at at first, but slowly the flaws start to surface, and soon enough you'll realize just how flimsy everything had been put together. Should Harvesters be real, they could feed on the audience's collective fear of the dreadfulness the movie is heading towards. And they will be well fed.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

2 Faces of My Girlfriend


And just when I thought I'd lost my mojo for romantic comedies, this Korean movie restored my faith in the genre. It's almost pitch perfect, have likable leads, contain both zany comedy, smart visual gags and some tear jerking moments, while on the whole providing a conventional, but not that predictable a storyline. And perhaps it's because there were moments in it that resonated with my personal life from an extremely long time back that did the trick of clicking with some scenes, some of course the nicer memories, while others the obviously not so pleasant.

For some strange reason, the song "Take a Picture" by Filter (not in the soundtrack of course) kept playing in my mind while viewing the film, and I thought the title was precisely what the male lead should have done. But of course the filmmakers and the story had a better way to address it, and close it oh-so-nicely.

To read my review of 2 Faces of My Girlfriend at, click on the logo below:


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

4th Singapore Short Film Festival @ The Substation

Hey everyone, you can join me for Day 2, but of course do participate in the other panels and screenings as well!
Here's more info on the upcoming event in March!

Coming up from 13 to 17 March is our biennial Singapore Short Film Festival!

Off-the-wall ideas, surrealist visuals, narrative hybrids – we love it when filmmakers get wild and creative with the short film format. With another fine selection of films from around the world, the 4th Singapore Short Film Festival celebrates the independent mind and the spirit of experimental film. Featuring films from the UK “Heartlines” series by EM Media in association with the UK Film Council, the Singapore premiere of “Kichiro” by Kelvin Sng, and talks before every screening on short filmmaking.

On the Opening Night, besides screening “Kichiro” and four other short films, filmmakers Eva Tang and Kelvin Sng will be speaking about their experiences making short films. After the screening, join us for coffee at the Random Room where we can chat more about film. Please note that the evening’s film screening is rated R21.

Come celebrate the independent mind and the spirit of experimental film with us!

The Substation Moving Images presents
4th Singapore Short Film Festival
13 to 17 March 2008
7.30pm, The Substation Theatre

Tickets at $6 / $4 (concession) from or call 6222 5595. Group discounts available.
For more info, visit or call 6337 7535

Film Partner: the British Council, EM Media, UK Film Council
Supported by: Singapore Film Commission, Gatecrash


DAY 1: Thu 13 Mar, rated R21, 100mins
“Starting Short” - Speakers: Eva Tang and Kelvin Sng / filmmakers / Flat Dreams, More than Words

Londres-London / UK-Singapore / 2007 / 11 min / Eva Tang
Kichiro / Singapore / 2006 / 19 min / Kelvin Sng
Vooreen paar knikkers meer (For a Few Marbles More) / The Netherlands / 2006 /11 min / Jelmar Hufen
Cyanosis / Iran / 2007 / 30 min / Rokhasareh Ghaem Maghami
My Keys / Singapore / 2007 / 8 min / Ting Szu Kiong

DAY 2: Fri 14 Mar, 100mins*
“Seeing Short” - Speaker: Stefan Shih / film reviewer / A Nutshell Review

Flicker/ Singapore / 2007 / 9 min / Aroozoo Wesley Leon
Stick Boy / Singapore / 2007 / 4 min / Putnam Trumbull
The Imaginary Girl / UK / 2007 / 10 min / Richard Porter
Fun Today / Israel / 2005 / 14 min / Hagar Ben-Asher
I Met A Real Streety Once / Australia / 2007 / 21 min / Caroline Ingvarsson
Circle / UK / 2007 / 9 min / Mehul Desal
Tango Trois / Australia / 2006 / 8 min / Gracie Otto
Popped Collar / Singapore / 2007 / 7 min / Robert Skinner

DAY 3: Sat 15 Mar, 100mins*
“Selling Short” - Speaker: Juan Foo / producer / Shooting Gallery Asia

Heroes / New Zealand / 2005 / 9 min / Julia Reynolds
Fruitful / Singapore / 2006 / 15 min / Pigeon+on
Cheerleader / USA / 2005 / 26 min / Kimberlee Bassford
Shadowline / UK / 2007 / 10 min / Dan Seagrave
Foreign Domestic Worker / Singapore / 2007 / 5 min / Eric Flanagan
Lady Margaret / UK / 2007 / 10 min / Deborah Haywood
Flying Saucey / USA / 2006 / 9 min / Marie Losier

DAY 4: Sun 16 Mar, 100mins*
“Sending Short” - Speaker: Yuni Hadi / programmer and manager / Objectifs and SIFF

Masters Of Ceremony / Singapore / 2007 / 13 min / Rich Ho
Ema Shel Shabat (A Shabbos Mother) / Israel / 2005 / 30 min / Inbar Namdar
Majidee / Malaysia / 2006 / 15 min / Azharr Rudin
Mai Fu (Ambush) / Taiwan / 2006 / 14 min / Koi Leong Tian
Over the Hill / UK / 2007 / 8 min / Peter Baynton

DAY 5: Mon 17 Mar, 100mins*
Prize Presentation: Voice Awards

The Island of Good Life / Portugal-India / 2007 / 25 min / Merces Tomaz Gomes
Goh Poh Seng / Canada / 2007 / 15 min / Almerinda Travassos
Anfaengerfehler (Beginner's Mistake) / Austria / 2007 / 3 min / Christian Horlesberger
For Memories / USA / 2006 / 14 min / Wing-Yee Wu
I Don't Know You / Singapore / 2006 / 4 min / Amanda Tan
Man With Camera / Singapore / 2007 / 22 min / Daphne Tan

*Ratings to be advised.

Monday, February 18, 2008

[DVD] Brick (2005)

Talk Faster! I'm Controlling My Bladder!

Winning the Special Jury Prize in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, Brick is a detective movie that is in a unique league of its own. It's terribly unconventional, yet comes with a familiar sense of having seen it somewhere before. Set in a high school, the premise is anything but, with a murder mystery done noir style but in modern settings with teenagers, throwing multiple curveballs in terms of narrative style that writer-director Rian Johnson adopted.

The first aspect of difference that hits you is that the language is totally out of this world. It takes a while to get used to it, as there's a peculiar slang that everyone uses, and it's not the usual hip words that get spewed now and then. It's done so all the time, before you finally realize that this is something of a surreal setting - the characters inhabit a world of their own that may seem like our own, but totally not so. But once you get the hang of it, you discover some consolatory joy in trying to figure out what sense do they all make, and sometimes this is revealed as part of the process our teen detective, Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) goes through.

Investigating the death of his ex-girlfriend Emily Kostich (Emilie de Ravin), it all started when she started to SOS him for help, before casting him away all over again. When he discovers his body, he takes it upon himself to find out the truth about the seedy world of high school crime, involving characters like Tugger (Noah Fleiss), femme fatale Laura (Nora Zehetner) and Kara (Meagan Good), The Pin (Lukas Haas) and Dode (Noah Segan), who turns out to be his ex's current squeeze.

In true noir style, we follow Brendan every step along the way as he interacts with all the characters, trying to make sense of things, while dealing with various red herrings, manipulation, violence when the time calls for it, and the dropping of little clues before a very tense and climatic ending. We slowly discover the Whos, Whats, Whys of the Whodunnit, and although limited screen time is given for Brendan's interaction with Emily, you can't help but connect to personal situations where someone who is close to your heart start to sound you out, and you try to reestablish contact, only to be brushed aside harshly. And what is a detective without an able assistance working behind the scenes to feed you information? The Brain (Matt O'Leary, gotta love all those quirky character names by now eh?) serves as Brendan's, and their chemistry as partners not by choice, turns out to be quite entertaining.

It's very difficult to imagine Brick was shot on a shoestring budget, given the high quality in production values, the unique storyline, and nice acting. It's a little movie that became a winner, so I'm recommending it, and for that ethereal haunting song that can easily become a earworm.

The Code 3 DVD by Alliance Entertainment comes in a clean anamorphic widescreen presentation, with audio in English 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitles are in English and Chinese, and scene selection is available over 20 chapters.

The Deleted and Extended Scenes come with an introduction by director Rian Johnson prior to each scene being played, which runs a total of 22:33 and comes with a "Play All" function. Consisting of 8 segments, you can get to see Nora Zehetner performing The Moon and I in full, various scenes which have their lines summarized and now put back (Pie House Rate), a scene which was reshot (You Trust Me Now?), a fantasy sequence in Heaven, some creative editing employed in A Dirty Word, and even a bed scene which was originally put into the Sundance version! (New Orleans)

The Inside Track: Casting the Roles of Laura and Dode is an inconsequential piece of extra, consisting of the auditions of both Nora Zehetner and Noah Segan with the reading of lines from specific scenes, which runs only 3:10 combined.

Finally, there's a Feature Commentary with Director Rian Johnson, Actors Noah Segan and Nora Zehetner, Producer Ram Bergman, Production Designer Jodie Tillen and Costume Designer Michele Posch. Not all at once of course, as Rian actually holds court to share plenty of behind the scenes happening starting with how the project got started, before introducing the various co-commentators one by one to recount their experience and to banter with them. Nora comes on at almost the 12 minute mark where her character comes on screen, and they share the commentary track for 7 minutes. Next was Jodie who discussed plenty of challenges (20 minutes worth) faced with designing the look and feel of the film. Michele also took about 17 minutes to discuss how they approached various small fashion houses all over the world to outfit their actresses using a very limited budget, while Noah Segan comes on at about the 1 hour 13 minute mark. Those who are curious about how this movie was made, shouldn't miss this commentary track, as every cool shot get explained, and there's also a section dedicated to the film score. Producer Ram Bergman wraps up the commentary with a talk about the creation of adequate buzz for Sundance, before the totally insane banter when the end credits rolled.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Things We Lost in the Fire

So What Did We Lose?

You can almost be assured of quality acting here in having both Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro play off each other as an unlikely couple who find strength in each other to overcome a major loss in their lives. To Audrey (Berry), David Duchovny's Brian Burke is the all-encompassing loving husband, who has a knack in raising up their kids, as well as the one who cuddles her to bed each night. But she shares her husband's time, to much of her dislike, with his best friend Jerry Sunborne (Del Toro), a recovering drug junkie who's known him since young, being the only person who cares for Jerry when everyone else shuns him.

But of course, the bulk of the movie dwells on how these 2 character adversaries have to come together to deal with the void left behind by a senseless street crime. And this of course will bring conflict which spices up the movie, as we discover how people deal with loss in their own way, sometimes beyond comprehension. For Audrey, she felt compelled to invite Jerry to stay at home, perhaps out of pity for his state, or maybe as a temporary father figure for her children to look up to. It's likely that because she knows that with him being her husband's best friend, he would probably rub off some anecdotes that he knows, to share with the family, especially since he had a fair share of time spent with Brian.

Plans do backfire, as she couldn't stand the thought of some of the stuff that Jerry knows through Brian's confiding in him, especially when it pertains to the little secrets about her children. And his being able to connect with the children at a snap of the fingers, do bring cause for concern too. But to Jerry, it's nothing more than opportunity to live out some semblance of a normal life as he embarks on a lonely journey to kick his addiction, and to experience the good stuff, almost perfect, of what he could have should he stay clean. I thought his character was unique in that there's an easy line to cross and exploit, but yet integrity says he doesn't do so. He knows his place, and doesn't do anything more that would hurt the family dynamics already shaken by a sudden departure.

It's quite a powerful drama as scenes start to unfold and the tension gets built up, usually with spur of the moments leading to unnecessary hurtful remarks being hurled. What I had enjoyed in the movie are the supporting characters from family and friends that make this movie, set in a close neighbourhood, all the more real. John Carroll Lynch, last since as a probable suspect in Zodiac, is that neighbour next door who comes by looking for a jogging partner, while Alison Lohman's Kelly also plays a recovering addict and almost unrecognizable because she ditched her blonde locks for a darker colour.

From grief and despair to a slow plodding towards new hope, Things We Lost in the Fire ignited during a scene around a dinner table in the last act. That scene alone stole the entire show, and brought to light the meaning of the title, as well as one of the most poignant moments in a movie I have seen in a long time. I like dinner table conversations, but this one took the cake in being honest, powerful and immensely moving. If I need a reason to like this movie, then that scene will be it. A conventional piece of drama, with great acting by Halle Berry and especially Benicio Del Toro, and definitely not to be missed by fans of either.

Feast of Love

Love Talk

Shrewd marketing meant that Feast of Love's release here was to coincide with the extremely commercial Valentine's Day celebrations, but sometimes I wonder the value of such a move, because do you really want to spend that day dedicated to declarations of undying love, in a darkened cinema hall, involved in what is essentially a solitary activity, at least until the lights come on.

But to those who decide to do so, Feast of Love lives up to its namesake. Based on the novel by Charles Baxter, almost every conceivable notion of the modern relationship gets worked into the entire story. And it helps too with an ensemble cast filled with beautiful leads, from young upstarts to wisely veterans. As with most movies with a huge cast, everyone's connected to one another through the inevitable six degrees of separation, naturally for convenience, but in this aspect, it played to the early monologue and we take on the role of the Greek Gods, who introduced the notion of love and see how each of our human creations scuttle around trying to make sense of it, and through their individual journeys, succeed or fail, laugh or cry, get spurned on to heights unimaginable, or get thrown into the depths of heartbroken despair.

Morgan Freeman can almost sleepwalk through any wise, sagely character roles. After all, he's played the most powerful man on Earth before, and even God himself, twice. Here, he's Harry Stevenson, a university lecturer on a leave of absence who together with his wife Esther Stevenson (Jane Alexander), are grieving the lost of their only son. And it's always easy to read the movie when you read his facial expression, with either a comforting smile given, a glint in that eye, or that knowing nod. His best friend is a coffee joint owner Bradley Thomas (Greg Kinnear), who is just about the most unlucky bloke when it comes to affairs of the heart, with his female engagements being Selma Blair, Radha Mitchell and Erika Marozsan, who enter at different points of his life. Then there's Bradley's employee Oscar the barista, whom we follow in a tale of young, passionate love at first sight with Chloe (Alexa Davalos).

As I mentioned earlier, every conceivable aspect of love get played on the big screen. You have the young love at first sight, the tried and tested bonds between the elderly who fear about impending departure from one another through death, you have ugly divorces, and worse, if it's for a member of the same sex, you have adultery and the exploration what makes it worse - knowing that you're cheating on your spouse, or cheating on a potential spouse because you've led them to believe that you're in exclusivity, and of course, parental love and guidance given towards a child.

Come to think of it, there're quite a number of negative emotions that get played through the movie, but ultimately, it's still provides a positive effect through the lessons learnt from succinct encounters that the characters go through. Such as whether you'll find the courage to go through hardship and difficulties with the other half, knowing the consequence of it all, finding little happiness and blessings in your daily life despite setbacks that take a stab through your heart, and what I thought was a very, very apt reminder and an important lesson to be learnt, is to always open your eyes and not be blindsided by love just because of the endorphines that course through your entire body make it seem that you can tolerate shortcomings for the longer term.

It's a reminder that in relationships, one has to be first honest with oneself, before seeking out that somebody else. Ditch those baggage, and fear not to break away amicably should you realize that things aren't working out right. Never give up hope, and to keep to your vows should you already have made them. Love is in the air, but pragmatism should sometimes prevail or be considered in tandem.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

No Country for Old Men

Hasta La Vista

The second movie watched today is also released by Paramount Vintage and Miramax, and shares with There Will Be Blood, eight Academy Award nominations, in a fight for most of the major honours. The brothers Coen's new film have been gathering wave after wave of honours, but somehow it didn't really quite work for me, despite the premise being something I would go for, and most likely to have enjoyed.

Don't get me wrong though, there are again briliant moments in the movie that I enjoyed, but on the whole, it was the unsatisfying anti-climatic finale that did it in for me, with too convenient a coincidence arising from a random act, and a frustrating interpret-it-if-you-please treatment that those who are more actively cerebral will get a field day deciphering and debating all the underlying meaning that make up the movie.

Much is said about Javier Bardem's Anton Chugurh, and I'm agreeable with the nods to his understated portrayal as a modern day, flesh and bones Terminator, who's armed with a gas powered hammer gun used to send cattle to heaven, and a high powered rifle with silencer attached. His target is 2 million dollars in a suitcase, coming from a deal with Mexican druglords turn awry, which Josh Brolin's Llewelyn Moss happened to steal away when he chanced upon a zero sum game in the middle of an open plain. So it's somewhat cat and mouse chase, with Terminator Chugurh after Moss to seek out those stacks of 100 dollar greenbacks, and sending those unfortunate good natured folks to heaven/hell should they come crossing his path. But I have to admit that the gun battling duels and confrontation between Chugurh and Llewelyn are tension filled enough to leave you at the edge of your seat.

If There Will Be Blood talks about money, No Country for Old Men talks about violence, or the random senselessness of it all. Through Chigurh's extremely focused quest, we become bewildered and numbed when he dispatches his victim without batting an eyelid, with little opportune of mercy being shown. As Tommy Lee Jones' Sheriff Bell, in a supporting role as yet another jaded cop who is world weary, notes in his daily reading of the news, wacky incidents often get reported because of the help of curious onlookers, but those which often involve a crime, somehow never get the all important second look.

This is not your usual narrative story with expected conventions. You come to expect something in the way the movie is built up by the Coens, but more often than not, it stops short, deliberately of course. There are some wonderful moments on its own, with scenes that are witty, and filled with a wicked sense of black humour. But ultimately, it's quite open ended for vast interpretation, and leaving you with questions that don't get answered. The ending is one of frustration for me, but come Oscar time, there isn't a doubt why this movie has been the darling of so many critical circles, and is probably expected to bag an Oscar award, or two.

There Will Be Blood

Black Gold

Money is the root of all evil. It's needed to fuel the economy, and it's needed to further various gains, be it personal, political, and even religious to a certain extent. Too much money and people will see green, wanting to know the secret formula to creating and hoarding wealth, because of the various forms of satisfying utility that comes with the spending of money. And precious commodity like oil which is in high demand, automatically equates to wads of cold hard cash.

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Andersen, There Will Be Blood brings us to the early 20th century, where it chronicles the exploits of a certain Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), who discovers oil deposits during silver mining, and hedges a bet on the right horse. Calling himself an oil man, he designs his persona as being a humble family man, with his adopted child H.W., so as to lower his level of threat as he goes around acquiring land which has the prospect on sitting upon oceans of oil buried deep down. It's a very shrewd move, and a card that he plays to perfection, hiding a cruel mean streak that he possesses deep within.

A teenager approaches him one day with leads that his family and the entire neighbourhood of simple rural folk, are sitting atop a potential gold mine. Without further ado, Daniel and son qualifies this lead, and hurriedly entice the folks to sell their estate to him. And here's where the compelling argument for the proposal take place, where even you'll be hard pressed not to agree with, of the boost in the local economy that the oil money will bring - better infrastructure, better crops for food, educational opportunities, jobs all round, and the likes. But Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) plays the hard game with Daniel, and requests for a church to be built for him, to further his ambition of being the defacto faith healer in the community.

And of course, such deal breakers are never in the good books of shrewd businessmen like Daniel, and the two of them set down the path of adversity, with the playing of games with each other, obvious snubbing, and total disgust. We see how the upper hand swings and shifts from one character to the other in their struggle for power over the community - one through the economy, the other through religion. And it is this battle which made me get interested and sit up.

There are some very acute observations about the abuse of religion in this movie, and the exploitation of it for ulterior motives, gains, and self-preservation, cannot be highlighted in terms more stark than those here. For money, one can sell the soul to the devil, or turn religious should support be able to be garnered from the support group. For money or power over the masses, false prophets inch their way to top positions so as to have absolute command and control over their followers. To save one's skin, one can deny their Lord whom they exalt in the loudest voice day in day out, although this is no big deal for false prophets since their faith is placed on the moolah instead.

I will count my chicken before it hatches, and say Daniel Day-Lewis will win that Best Actor Oscar this year, without a doubt. He will be robbed of that accolade should he not win it, as it was a really fascinating transformation to his character, and I still admire how Day-Lewis the person fades away into the character he portrays. His oil man is nothing but a ruthless businessman who will stop at nothing, not even murder, to fulfill his goals. His deep resonating voice is strangely hypnotic, and he presents a character that you will so love to hate, and probably be fearful of, along the way. Relative newcomer Paul Dano holds his own against the acclaimed veteran, and his Eli character exudes a sense of seediness that you can't help but cheer when he gets his just desserts. With the both of them having a chance to have a go at each other, I thought Dano really took up the opportunity to let it rip.

It's a pretty long movie, sad to say you can feel its length. It unveils itself very slowly, and the first 20 minutes are pretty much devoid of any speaking parts, as you follow the designing and building of land based oil rigs, as well as the process to bring out the black gold. But there are some brilliant scenes in the movie which are worth their weight in gold, coupled with the beautiful cinematography and art direction, transporting you back to the turn of the century. The last third of the movie seemed to pick up the pace but felt somewhat rushed, but the superb acting and ending more than make up for the shortcomings along the way.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Jodhaa Akbar

Minimum Distance

Today marks the premiere of Jodhaa Akbar here and the reasons for wanting to watch this film are simple - the pairing of Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, director Ashutosh Gowariker, and musician A.R. Rahman. It's simply an irresistible combination, one that everyone in the cinema hall would attest to, given the full house, and the full house in the next screening.

Jodhaa Akbar is set in the 16th century, which tells of an arranged marriage for strategic alliance purposes that blossomed into true love between a Mughal emperor, Jalaluddin Mohammad (Hrithik Roshan) and a Rajput princess Jodha (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). In fact, as how most historical epics would go, such as the likes of Alexander or peer Bollywood film Asoka (starring Shah Rukh Khan), while efforts are placed into extensive research to try and stay as authentic as possible, there still are various interpretations to characters, some of whom will be taken to task (like Oliver Stone's vision of Colin Farrell as Alexander the Great) by audiences. The contention here is the story behind Jodha, and the various names she goes by with different retellings, and that is put up front even before the opening credits start to roll.

Director Gowariker's pedigree with his successful epics like Lagaan and Swades puts him in good stead as he tackles this love story on multiple fronts. In fact, as he puts it, it's a story about the meeting of two cultures and two religions, so basically, what's in a name? Sometimes I wonder about similarities with the formation of big countries as we know it today, with China undergoing multiple civil styled wars in bids by conquerors to unite it, and with India, it seems that it's no different. We get to see the multitudes of ethnic groups, each with their unique practices which we were given glimpses on, thanks to the superb art direction and wonderful, authentic sets recreated.

Jalaluddin Mohammad hails from the Mughals, and is a Muslim, who from young is told by various quarters what to do, and how to lead his life as Emperor of Hindustan. He gains a reputation on the battlefield, which could parallel those in Hollywood in terms of sheer scale and grandeur, even utilizing hordes of marauding elephants and settled into some icky territory when elephants rampage and stomp on soldiers. Blood aside, we see Jalaluddin slowly become a man of his own, and in a bid to forge a strategic alliance, he's offered the hand of Jodha Bai. However, this arranged marriage was doomed a failure from all quarters, because of the difference in religion (she's a Hindu) and culture. Furthermore, the reluctant Jodha makes it all the more difficult by asking for 2 conditions, that she be allowed to practice her religion, and to build a shrine in their bridal home. He agrees.

And in today's context, I would say this act of proposition and acceptance would also raise some eyebrows sky high. But herein likes the key message that gets drummed through the movie - why can't we love despite our differences? Why can't we enjoy the diversity that each religion or culture bring, instead of baying for blood and inciting hatred? Jodhaa Akbar has its message of (religious) tolerance worn very prominently on its sleeve. It's quite radical and forward thinking in Jalaluddin's character, and we feel for the couple as they go journey from strangers to soul mates overcoming the various challenges posed from the outside, and between themselves as they try hard to break the thick ice.

But it's not all lovey-dovey in turmoil times like theirs, where politicking takes place from the macro with the constant threat of war and the running of a country, to the micro where internal jealousies and the defending of personal turf rear their ugly head, which kind of reminisce the many petty backstabbings found behind closed royalty doors, with Jalaluddin's nanny Maham Anga (Ila Arun) proving to be the attempted spoiler and go between in the marriage. And to leaders out there, there's a scene which while it's something that's not new, is always apt to remind them not to sit on their ivory towers, but to walk the ground and hear the grumbling first hand, as nothing beats ground level intelligence.

In most parts, Jodhaa Akbar had reminded me of Cecil B DeMille's historical productions, with its beautiful sets, costumes, great acting, and intense battle sequences. There are a couple of nice action set pieces ranging from full scale war with the clashing of two opposing sides (the elephants were a great bonus, trust me), to a duel which turns out to be a courtship ritual, something not new since both Hrithik and Aishwarya challenged each other before (though on the basketball court), with the latter quite well versed in swordplay given her earlier role in The Last Legion, and one featuring what I thought took a leaf out of the battle between Hector and Achilles in Troy.

Of course, no Bollywood movie will be without music and dance, and here, it's done quite tastefully as you don't expect sudden outbursts into song. The music by A.R. Rahman is top notch as usual, and dances here happen naturally as part of the narrative flow, with the first song coming out only just before the hour mark. Needless to say I found myself tapping my feet to almost all of them. There are a numerous plus points in this blockbuster, and if I'm telling you I'm getting the DVD when it's released, I'm already giving this a vote of confidence that it's a contender to make it to my top 10 movies of the year. Highly recommended! Oh, and you'll have to watch this yourself to find out if Hrithik and Ash did sizzle after their locking of lips in Dhoom2!

P.S. Running 213 minutes, I was thankful that the intermission was granted by the cinema operators for you to stretch your legs, and release the load in your bladder.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Down With Oppression!

It is not difficult to understand the growing number of accolades that are being bestowed upon Persepolis, directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, which is based upon the graphic novel of the same title by Marjane, as it recounts in autobiographical terms, the growing pains of the author in a world that had undergone tremendous change in the last few decades.

Yes, not many films take on the political and social context of Iran head on, and what more doing so in very acute, straightforward, no holds barred terms. But it doesn't just seek to pass callous judgement or sought the easy way out to slam everything about the restrictive standard of living. Rather, it's a long hard look at the oppression and changes for the relative worse, and summarizes quite succinctly the turmoil that its ordinary citizenry had to endure in their day to day lives, but yet, always have that glimmer of hope to cling onto, and the joys of taking pleasure in the simple things in life.

The story is told through the perspective of author Marjane Satrapi from the time she's a young child, and life as she knew back then forms the baseline where changes are measured against. For the first act, we're treated to a summary of the historical events that took place in the late 70s revolution, and the euphoric sentiments that came with it, before reality set in, and religious fervour take centerstage. We follow Marjane as she grows up and we partake in the later acts where her life abroad is filled with the expected cultural shocks, and becomes a tale about the remembering of one's roots.

Strangely enough and here's where the kudos go to, is that Persepolis never, at any moment, felt like it was preaching from a soap box, nor is heavy handed in its treatment of politics and religion. Its allowance for comedy was extremely generous, with cheeky lines thrown in and thank goodness too for her Grandma who's a constant chicken soup for the soul, her bawdy sense of humour and subtle sarcasm never far away, and to whom the references of the Jasmine flower belongs to. But it's not all lighthearted laughter, as when the time calls for tension, you'll feel just as panicky as the Iranians when the morality police come aknocking at one's door, in their obsessive attempts to weed out decadent western influences, which often defies simple social logic to the likes of you and me. As my friend put it, it's blatant hypocrisy on display.

And for it to be nominated for Best Animated Film in the upcoming Oscar awards does give Persepolis a vote of confidence in its art department, but naturally without a doubt for its strong, engaging storyline as well. The movie is almost devoid of colours as it's spent recollecting the past, and despite it being just in black and white, it's still simply gorgeous to look at. The lighting and shadow play worked wonders, and the slick editing and transitions make Persepolis deserving of a second viewing. I thought that for its subject matter, animation would probably be the way to go because there will be expected problems to shooting scenes in country, especially for authenticity purposes. But with animation done right, one can probably get away with stylistic license taken.

Highly recommended, and not to be missed especially if you're an animation fan, or are yearning for an excellent piece of storytelling.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

L: Change the World

My Last Hurrah?

In the last quarter of 2006, the twin combo movies of Death Note and Death Note: The Last Name made quite an impact in Asia, with its story dwelling on power to the common man to either do "good", or tote the ambiguous line proving whether absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Along the way, the character of L proved to be immensely popular, but more so for the actor playing him, Ken'ichi Matsuyama, who solidified his position as a teenage heartthrob (you can hear the squeals each time he sucks on a lollipop). And even though the inevitable happened at the end of the second installment, what's there to stop a good man from being featured in a movie to milk what's worth from whatever is left?

To read my review of L: Change the World at, click on the logo below:



You Jump I Jump

When Samuel L. Jackson took on the role of Mace Windu in the Star Wars Prequels, I think many fan boys were relishing the fact that there'll probably be some major ass-whupping dished out by his character in typical mo-fo style, especially with the prospect of crossing swords with Anakin Skywalker (though for obvious reasons we would know who the victor will be). Well, guess even George Lucas would have chickened out on such a possibility, opting instead for something more accidental than a heartwrenching defeat. And so goes the notion of watching Jackson kick Hayden Christensen's rear.

Now here we get to see what could have happened, since the two team up again in director Doug Liman's Jumper, a movie so filled with X-Men's Nightcrawler-styled effects of teleportation, that it doesn't look special anymore. But Doug too steered clear and offered somewhat of a truce. Based on the novel by Steven Gould, Jumper tells the tale of two opposing sides, the Jumpers who have the ability to travel the world for free and basically do what they want without consequence, and the Paladins, who see green at the Jumpers wondrous god-like ability, and make it their moral duty to destroy all these freaks of nature, by posing as various government entities from the CIA to the NSA in their attempts to impose authority.

So on one corner, we have David Rice (Christensen), your regular 15 year old loser who grows up to be, well, a 15 year old stuck in the body of an adult, whose career is to borrow interest free loans from banks without their consent of course, and to woo the girl of his dreams, Millie (Rachel Bilson, in yet another seductive temptress role, and a major annoyance in the movie unfortunately). When things start to heat up from both the romance angle, and from Paladin Roland (Jackson), along comes Paladin hunter-killer Griffin (Jamie Bell)) to show David the light.

It's quite standard fare for an action movie, hinging primarily on its gimmicky teleportation one trick pony. And the pony has been ridden fairly exhaustively in this less than 90 minute movie, without any signs of assistance from a narrative that could engage further than it being one of those regular, run of the mill teenage romance action adventure. With its Star Wars baggage, I laughed when Diane Lane was introduced, because her character serves little purpose, and negligible offering of an emotional depth or development to characters. The best bit of course is to expect that Star Wars styled reference from a mile away, and waiting for the inevitable punchline to be delivered was nothing short of the expected.

Even then, the Jumpers ability has shades of the Butterfly Effect, but without the time travel element of course, only spatial travel. And I wish I had the ability too for obvious reasons, and probably lapse into the decadent lifestyle that David Rice leads, but the first thing I'll do of course is to teleport myself to the other cinema halls just to check out what better stuff are playing than this disappointing movie.

Come Here Boy and Get Your Ass Whupped Good!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Screen Shots at ACM - It Must Be Love: Stories From Yasmin, the Storyteller

Fans of Yasmin Ahmad, come Feb 22-23 (10 Days Time), Asian Civilizations Museum will be screening a retrospect of her movies Mukhsin, Sepet and Gubra in that order, which is chronologically correct in the loose Orked trilogy, without Rabun unfortunately.

Our beloved director will be present to introduce all the movies, and also be in attendance for a dialogue session after Gubra, so those in Singapore have no excuses not turning up! For non-fans (or fans to be), this will be an excellent opportunity for you to catch her movies on the big screen!

You got to hurry though as the hall accommodates 150 persons. Tickets are still available, so fasterly get yours before they run out!!

The details as follow:

SCREEN SHOTS presents...
It Must Be Love: Stories from Yasmin, the Storyteller
22 Feb 2008 - 23 Feb 2008
Friday & Saturday | @ Asian Civilisations Museum, 1 Empress Place, Singapore
Registration and Ticketing Details here:
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